Cambridge Associates recently published a research report concluding it does not pay to be out of the market.
” Investors who take money out of the market too early stand to “risk substantial underperformance,”
Cambridge advised investors concerned about the length of the current bull market not to bail out of equity markets earlier than necessary in an attempt to avoid exposure to downturns.
This seems timely given current market volatility.
As the article notes, it is hard to time markets “because trying to time re-entry to get back into the markets at lower levels leads to substantially lower long-term returns, the researchers found. For example, the report showed that being out of the market for just the two best quarters since the turn of the last century cut cumulative real returns on U.K. equities by more than 50 percent.”
“That effect is even more profound in the United States, where sitting out the best two quarters cut cumulative real returns by more than two thirds, according to the report.”
“While no investor should be ignoring valuations, becoming too focused on timing an exit has substantial risks,” said Alex Koriath, head of Cambridge’s European pensions practice, in a statement accompanying the research. “The best periods for returns tend to be very concentrated, meaning that exiting at the wrong time could drag down cumulative returns significantly.”
This is a pertinent issue given the US sharemarket is into its longest bull market run in history. Also, of interest, historically on average, markets perform very strongly over the final stages of a bull market run. Lastly, bull markets tend to, more often than not, end six-twelve months prior to a recession. Noting, this is not always the case. Albeit, the consensus is not forecasting a recession in the US for some time. It appears, the probability of a US recession in the next couple of years is low.
The key forward looking indicators, such as shape of the yield curve, significant widening of high yield credit spreads, rising unemployment, and falling future manufacturing orders are not signalling a recession is on the horizon in the US. Please see my earlier posts History of Sharemarket corrections – An Anatomy of equity market corrections
What is the answer?
It is difficult to time markets. AQR came to a similar conclusion in a recent article. AQR argue the best form of defence is a truly diversified portfolio. I agree and this is a core focus of this Blog.
As we know equity markets have drawdowns, declines in value of over 20%. In the recent AQR article they estimate that there have been 11 episodes of 20% plus drawdowns since 1926, a little over once every 10 years! Bearing in mind the last major drawdown was in 2008 – 09.
The average peak to trough has been -33% and on average it has taken 27 months to get back to the pre-drawdown levels.
As AQR note, we cannot consistently forecast and avoid these severe down markets. In my mind, conceptually these drawdowns are the risk of investing in equities. With that risk, comes higher returns over the longer term relative to investing in other assets.
At the very least we can try and reduce our exposure by strategically tilting portfolios, as AQR says, “if market timing is a sin, we have advocated to “sin a little””.
I agree with the Cambridge Associates article to never be out of the market completely and with AQR to strategically tilting the portfolio. These tilts should primarily be based on value, be subject to a disciplined research process, and focused more on risk reduction rather than chasing returns. This approach provides the opportunity to add value over the medium to longer term.
Nevertheless, by far a better solution is to truly diversify and build a robust portfolio. This is core to adding value, portfolio tilting is a complementary means of adding value over the medium to long term relative to truly diversifying the portfolio.
True diversification in this sense is to add investment strategies that are lowly correlated with equities, while at the same time are expected to make money over time. Specifically, they help to mitigate the drawdowns of equities. For example, adding listed property and listed infrastructure to an equity portfolio is not providing true portfolio diversification.
In this sense truly “alternative” investment strategies need to be considered e.g. Alternative Risk premia and hedge fund type strategies. Private equity and unlisted assets are also diversifiers.
Again conceptually, there is a cost to diversifying. However, it is the closest thing in finance to a free lunch from a risk/return perspective i.e. true portfolio diversification results a more efficient portfolio. Most of the diversifying investment strategies have lower returns to equities. There are costs to diversification whether using an options strategy, holding cash, or investing in alternative investment strategies as a means to reduce sharp drawdowns in portfolios.
Nevertheless, a more diversified portfolio is a more robust portfolio, and offers a better risk return outcome.
Also, very few investor’s objectives require to be 100% invested in equities. For most investors a 100% allocation to equities is too volatile for them, which raises the risk that investors act suboptimal during periods of market drawdowns and heightened levels of market volatility i.e. sell at the bottom of the market
A more robust and truly diversified portfolio reduces portfolio volatility increasing the likelihood of investors reaching their investment goals.
As AQR note, diversification is not the same thing as a hedge. Uncorrelated means returns are influenced by other risks. They have different return drivers.
From this perspective, it is also worth noting that adding diversifying strategies to any portfolio means adding new risks. The diversifiers will have their own periods of underperformance, hopefully this will be at a different times to when other assets in the portfolio are also underperforming. Albeit, just because they have periods of underperformance does not mean they are not portfolio diversifiers.
AQR perform a series of model portfolios which highlight the benefits of adding truly diversifying strategies to a traditional portfolio of equities and fixed interest.
No argument there as far as I am concerned.
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